History of the Cross Keys Inn at Lower Gornal in the county of Staffordshire. Research is augmented with photographs, details of licensees, stories of local folklore, census data, newspaper articles and a genealogy connections section for those studying their family history.


Cross Keys Inn
Cross Keys Inn

Some History of this Pub
The Cross Keys Inn was located on Ruiton Street, a few doors from the Waggon and Horses on the way up to Ruiton. The building disappeared from Gornal's landscape in 2001 when it was demolished two years after the pub had ceased trading. A fully licensed house, the Cross Keys was listed in a trade directory for 1834 in which Richard Bradley was recorded as the publican. Pigot's Directory, published a year later, listed the building as the Old Cross Keys, suggesting that the pub had been trading for a good number of years before the publication date of 1835.

Lower Gornal - Frontage of the Cross Keys Inn [1999]

Richard Bradley was born around 1776 and kept the Old Cross Keys with his wife Sarah. The couple were helped by 20 year-old Joseph Bradley, along with Julia Stanton, a young servant girl.

By the mid-1840's John Baker was the licensee of the Cross Keys Inn. In 1846, whilst he was tenant, the pub was put up for auction. The sale conducted by auctioneer Abiathar Bunch was held at the Cross Keys Inn on February 23rd 1846. The licensed house and premises were copyhold and comprised of a "front kitchen, front parlour, bar, back parlour, four cellars, four bedrooms, large clubroom, brewhouse, stable, pigsty, wash-cistern, and other outbuildings, with a large and productive garden, all in the occupation of Mr. John Baker." A second sale was held for another copyhold house and premises, adjoining the Cross Keys Inn, comprising a "front parlour, kitchen, cellar, two bedrooms, brewhouse, pigsty, garden, and other outbuildings," that were in the occupation of Mr. Joseph Beale. I suspect that this cottage later formed part of the Cross Keys.

Lower Gornal - Cross Keys Inn with the Miners' Arms and Waggon and Horses [1999]

This photograph shows the location of the Cross Keys in relation to the neighbouring Waggon and Horses and Miners' Arms. The latter is down the hill on the left-hand side of the photograph, whilst the Waggon and Horses is a few yards further along from the Cross Keys Inn. Here there is an open space between the pubs and this formed a car park for both houses. However, cottages once stood between the two public houses.

An advertisement for the sale of brewing plant and equipment appeared in the local press in 1862 when Joshua Price was giving up the house, revealing that the Cross Keys Inn was producing homebrewed ales. Two years later J. Ellis, a mortgagee of the property, applied for a licence for the pub but was refused in September 1864. One can only wonder if this left him high-and-dry? Whatever, James Hartill soon took over as publican of the Cross Keys.

James Hartill was born in Sedgley but had spent some of his early years at Darlaston. He married Elizabeth Rhodes in 1845 and moved to Gornal where he worked as a miner. James and Elizabeth kept the Cross Keys Inn and lived with two of their three daughters. It was Phyllis who married the blacksmith Thomas Bate in 1880 and that inaugurated the long period of the Bate name appearing above the front door of the house.

Thomas Bate took over the licence of the Cross Keys Inn whilst his father-in-law remained in residence of the house. James Hartill died in February 1893. The Bate family continued the tradition of selling homebrewed ales at the Cross Keys Inn. Thomas Bate pulled pints brewed by his son Clarence at the rear of the house.

Lower Gornal - Rear of the Cross Keys Inn [1999]

The beers sold at the Cross Keys Inn changed when Black Country brewer Tommy Booth added the house to his small estate of tied houses supplied by the brewery at the rear of the Red Lion Inn.

The pub was later operated by the Myatt family that had acquired the Broadway Brewery at Shifnal. Concerned about the state of the property, the brewery hired Bertram Butler and Co., an architectural firm that conducted much work within the licensed trade, to inspect the Cross Keys Inn during February 1955. The firm reported that the pub was "very old, consisting partly of brick, and partly of stone" and concluded that it was riddled with damp and in a very poor condition. Despite remedial work being undertaken on a number of occasions, the building would suffer from damp for the rest of its days.

Lower Gornal - Rear of the Cross Keys Inn [1999]

J. F. Tomkinson took over the tenancy of the Cross Keys on February 1st 1957. He had previously worked at Messrs. Garrington's Ltd. and moved into the pub with his wife and four children. However, citing poor trade, he was almost immediately in financial difficulties at the Cross Keys and this led to him being given notice to quit. He and his family later moved to Deepdale Lane, Lower Gornal. His brief foray into the licensed trade would continue to haunt him for years to come as the brewery brought legal action to recover their losses.

Sarah Ann Westwood applied for the tenancy of the Cross Keys in August 1958. A married woman living in New Street at Gornal Wood, she had previously worked as a barmaid at the Pear Tree Inn, a position she had held for ten years. She had earlier worked at Wolverhampton Die Casting at Graiseley Hill, Wolverhampton. Her husband, Joseph, was a miner at Baggeridge Colliery. Taking over the tenancy of the Cross Keys in November 1958, Sarah Ann Westwood was granted a licence on December 16th.

Commissioning Henry James Holden, a house and church decorator based in Broad Street, Bilston, the Broadway Brewery initiated some improvements, alterations and decorating at the Cross Keys in July 1959 but soon afterwards the property was transferred to the Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. who were to operate the building under the Hanson's banner. However, I have only seen the livery of Banks's on this building so I am not sure if this was the case.

On taking  over the Cross Keys, Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. sent in their favoured surveyor of Bertram Butler to draw up a detailed plan of the property, along with proposed alterations to the house. The plans were drawn up on November 28th 1960. The key changes to the property included demolishing the derelict brewery building to the rear, creating a wine and spirit store by moving the kitchen upstairs, and by transforming the licensee's dining room into a customer space for women and children. The children's room had occupied a small room to the front of the pub and was accessed by a corridor. However, in earlier days, the front room to the left of the pub was a tap room. This room, lobby and hall were to be incorporated within a 'new' larger smoke room.

The alterations to the property were the result of an inspection of the Cross Keys by the local magistrates. Both the bar and smoke room had a separate servery, the latter also having a hatch window for an outdoor department. All in all, it was still an 'awkward' layout for a public house contained within such an old property but would satisfy the authorities who had also instructed the brewery to install a proper toilet facility for women. Access to the bar was still via the covered way into the rear yard, possibly enhancing the 'secretive' nature of the place. This was a domain for the locals!

Sarah Westwood remained as tenant of the Cross Keys during this work and throughout the 1960's. In 1970 she was succeeded by Kenneth Smith who kept the pub with his wife Kathleen. By all accounts, the couple kept the Cross Keys in good fashion and the house was a popular night out for the folks living in Gornal. Traditional entertainment and charity events helped to keep the till ringing nicely during the 1970's.

The events staged at the Cross Keys ensured the pub was often featured in the Dudley Herald. The piano and sing-a-longs were a staple of the pub's entertainment. Known as Kath to the locals, the hostess would do a few turns, her speciality being a Shirley Bassey number. They claim that entertainment was in her blood as she was the daughter of Percy Hickman, a local drummer and beer glass player. Her husband, and licensee, Ken Smith, had formerly worked as what locals would call a shovel mon at Jeavons's.

The Women's Clinic at Cross Keys Inn [1975]
Copyright. Image by Eddie Brown

Ken and Kath Smith took on Margaret Lees to help at the pub and she was quite a character. At this time the children's room was a very popular haunt for local women and the room was dubbed 'The Clinic.' The regular customers included Frances Watkins, Nelly Heath, "Maddie" Gregg, and Stella Hughes. One of the eldest customers, Ellen Broster, would sometimes hold court in The Clinic and recount tales of local legends such as Anna Blackin, the pikelet seller, and Phoebe Tripe, a name to celebrate her tripe-selling days around Gornal.

Lower Gornal - Customers at the Cross Keys Inn [1999]
Copyright. Image by Eddie Brown

Banging the piano keys during this period, arguably the last of the pub's great days, was Jean Harris. She is pictured in the next column with the pub singer Toni Martel who spent many a happy hour in the Cross Keys. Jean could play most of the popular songs of the previous 20-30 years and many a customer would do a 'turn.' Ex-serviceman and postman, Gordon Harris, was one such customer. The Watkins brothers, "Coggy" Stan and Philip, would also get up to entertain the regulars.

Other customers concentrated on their Banks's ale. Teddy Cox, a miner for many years at Baggeridge pit, was a loyal customer at the Cross Keys, as was his father Will who had worked underground for almost 60 years before retiring in 1976. Teddy Cox was one of the crib team who played at the Cross Keys. He would often have a drink with George Jones, a local pigeon racer.  

In January 1976 it was agreed by board members to purchase an adjoining piece of land for the sum of 150. The management's reasoning for the acquisition was it would make things easier if the brewery decided to rebuild one large pub on the site in order to replace the Cross Keys and Waggon and Horses.

In 1986 another plan was drawn up for Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. by T. A. Poultney for a proposed car park that was to serve both the Waggon and Horses and Cross Keys utilising the land owned by the brewery and to be laid out on the sites of the former adjacent cottages.

John Connell was mine host in the late 1980's. He later moved to the River Don Hotel at Eastoft, near Scunthorpe. On March 20th 1990 he handed over the keys to the pub to Barry and Sheila Flavell. This couple kept the Cross Keys for six years and proved to be popular with the locals. They themselves had only moved a short distance from their former home at No.70 Summer Lane.

The tenancy was due to change again on October 2nd 1995 when Russell Lamb of The Fold was to take over at the Cross Keys. However, a new pub operator took over the house on March 5th 1996 when it passed to Chrysalis Taverns of Hall Green. Paying an annual rent of 6,000, the company installed Mrs Vivienne Wafer as manager and she took over as licensee on May 2nd 1996. 

The change of operator signalled the beginning of the end as the pub was being supported by Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. with continual repairs and renovations to what was a fairly dilapidated building. The trend of small operators around this period wasn't far short of neglect. The tenure of Chrysalis Taverns was brief and the Cross Keys was handed over to Marpletime Limited of Leicester. Their involvement was also short-lived and on March 2nd 1997 a new tenancy agreement was drawn up for Mrs. Gillian Evans of Gornal Social Club in Lake Street.

By 1998 Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. were looking to dispose of the land and building, with residential being the most likely alternative use for the site. It was the same story at the neighbouring Waggon and Horses, though that pub did survive longer than the Cross Keys. By February 1999 the pub was placed on a schedule of disposals. The outlet had been caught trading during illegitimate hours and was on the local authority's radar after a number of incidents in the pub.

The Cross Keys officially ceased trading on Friday February 12th, 1999. The pub suffered a final indignity when it was the victim of an arson attack in the Spring of 2000. On March 13th 2001 the building and land was sold to Clive Fletcher, a property developer based at Bewdley and Kidderminster. The Cross Keys was demolished in May 2001, bringing to an end its long history on Ruiton Street. The land was subsequently sold to Saxonhurst Developments of Stourbridge and housing was later erected on the site of the pub.
All text and images Copyright - click here for more information.

Related Newspaper Articles
"Regulars at a Gornal public house really made a meal of their latest charity fund-raising idea. They were invited to feast their eyes on a giant sausage roll! Then it was a case of guessing some of the vital statistics of the 5ft 1. savoury. The monster sausage roll was baked by women patrons of the Cross Keys in Ruiton Street. And to mark their appreciation of the 134 raised, members of the Dudley branch of Muscular Dystrophy presented the pub with a tankard - perhaps to help the roll go down! A sponsored walk, a yard of ale and other drinking competitions also helped coin the biggest district total for the charity during two months at the end of last year. Now the pub is hoping to repeat its success. Already a nine pint whiskey bottle is filling up with coins.
"Monster Sausage Roll For Charity"
in Dudley Herald
: March 14th 1971.
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Licensees of this Pub
1834 - Richard Bradley
1842 - William Cartwright
1845 - John Baker
1850 - Joseph Baker
1860 - Joseph Gilbert
1862 - Joshua Price
1864 - James Hartill
1892 - 1931 Thomas Bate
1931 - 1935 Thomas Howard Bate
1935 - 1935 Thomas Copson
1935 - 1937 Arthur Fieldhouse
1937 - 1937 John Hickman
1937 - 1957 Mary Ann Mason
1957 - 1958 J. F. Tomkinson
1958 - 1970 Sarah Ann Westwood
1970 - 1981 Kenneth Smith
1981 - 1982 James Stanley Jones
1982 - 1983 Kevan John Lowe
1983 - 1988 Thomas Newell
1988 - 1990 John Joseph Connell
1990 - 1996 Barry Kenneth Flavell
1996 - 1997 Vivian Wafer
1997 - 1999 Gillian Evans

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Banks's Imperial Mild Ale [1960's]

Genealogy Connections
If you have a genealogy story or query regarding the Cross Keys Inn you can contact me and I will post it here in addition to including your message within the website pages for Staffordshire Genealogy.

Map of the Cross Keys Inn and Waggon and Horses [1883]
On this map extract from 1883 the locations of the Cross Keys Inn and Waggon and Horses were marked by the Ordnance Survey.

Ken and Kath Smith at the Cross Keys Inn at Lower Gornal
Ken and Kath Smith took over at the Cross Keys in 1970 and enjoyed a decade at the Lower Gornal pub, making many friends during their time behind the counter.

Jean Harris and Toni Martel at the Cross Keys Inn at Lower Gornal
Jean Harris was, for many years, the piano player at the Cross Keys Inn. Here she is pictured with the pub singer Toni Martel who often entertained customers at the Cross Keys.

Banks's Imperial Mild Ale [c.1948]

Building Plan
Click here for a 1960 Plan of the Cross Keys Inn at Lower Gornal
This is an extract from a building plan drawn up in 1960. You can click on the image to view the plan in full. The plan was commissioned by Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries Ltd. shortly after they took over as the pub's operator.

Links to other Websites
Ancient Manor of Sedgley
Black Country Bugle
Black Country Gob
Black Country Society
Genealogy and Gornal
Gornal and Sedgley Team Ministry
Sedgley Local History Society

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Banks's Beer Mat [1962]

Work in Progress

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Newspaper Articles
A meeting of colliers was held at the Cross Keys Inn, Lower Gornal, on Thursday night. Messrs. H. Rust and R. Turner addressed the meeting in favour of the men remaining loyal to the Wages Board. It was unanimously agreed to support the Board. A dispute has arisen with the colliers employed by Sir Alfred Hickman, at his Garden Colliery, Spring Vale, near Bilston. The men have received fourteen days' notice to work at tonnage rates instead of day work, as formerly. A consultation has taken place but the men have decided to "play on." The scare amongst metropolitan consumers generally, as the result of what is regarded as the alarming news from the north, shows no sign of abatement. Enquiries amongst leading coal merchants yesterday showed that they were absolutely overwhelmed with orders, while merchants find little difficulty in getting an adequate supply of coal when they pay the price demanded for it. They are not always in a position to execute orders with the usual despatch to satisfy customers, whose abnormal demands have thrown the ordinary working gear out of order. While extra horses and wagons could be hired to cart fuel, merchants cannot provide these vehicles with the necessary scales and weights prescribed by the Weights and Measures Act; Hence, merchants have to depend upon their ordinary vehicles. The feeling of alarm amongst the public is not shared at the Coal Exchange, where yesterday a calmer feeling prevailed than on Wednesday. A great deal of business was done, but the only alteration in prices was a rise of 2s. on seaborne coal, inland coal remaining at the same price as on Wednesday. The demand of the colliery-owners for 26s. 6d. per ton, which amounted to a rise of 8s. 6d. oh the week per ton, gave rise to much angry grumbling, and the advance was condemned as uncalled for. Notwithstanding, merchants decided not to make any further advance in price to the public. Therefore when the market closed the quotation to the public was 34s. per ton for best house coal. Merchants point out that whereas coal has advanced 8s. 6d. they have increased their price to customers only by 8s., and they profess the utmost anxiety to allay public excitement, for which, it is argued, there is no legitimate ground. Merchants declared that prices will fall as rapidly as they have risen. The prevailing opinion on change was that colliery-owners would not attempt to enforce the proposed reduction of wage, and that no strike would take place.
"The Coal Trade Crisis"
in Birmingham Daily Post
: March 5th 1892

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Banks's Beer Mat [1970's]

Banks's Beer Mat [1962]

Banks's Imperial Old Ale [c.1950's]

Banks's Imperial Pale Ale [c.1950's]

Banks's Mild Ale [1959]

Banks's Brown Ale [1970's]

Banks's Pale Ale [1970's]

Banks's Mild Ale [1970's]

Fide et Fortitudine 1875

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